SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: April 26, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Richard Lindsay, 646-258-7193
(Highland Falls, NY) – Military police arrested fifteen Equality Riders and 6 community members as they attempted to step onto the United States Military Academy at West Point to speak as citizens and taxpayers opposed to the military’s ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy. The policy prevents openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from serving in the military or attending West Point.
"We are here as LGBT people to pose one important question to the future military leaders that attend West Point," said Haven Herrin, Equality Ride co-director. "The question is, ‘Would you serve with me?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ then we need to tell Congress that military members are open to LGBT people serving with them. If the answer is ‘no,’ then we need to sit down and have a conversation with cadets that is 13 years overdue."
As they have at military campuses around the country, Equality Riders wore t-shirts with the question, "Would you serve with me?" printed on them. At the front gate of the Academy, Riders and community members stepped up to a line of Military Police who informed them that if they trespassed onto campus, they would be charged with a federal offense. The Riders and community members stepped past the MP’s one-by-one and were escorted back to the front of the gate. Undeterred, they returned and stepped past the MP’s again and were arrested and escorted onto the campus for processing. All those arrested were given a summons and immediately released.
Equality Rider Monica Carmean spoke as one of the organizers the West Point visit. "I am here as a straight ally because so often policies like ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ are put in place in the name of heterosexual people," Carmean said. "This policy reflects not just individual prejudice, but government-sanctioned discrimination."
Around 10,000 service members have been discharged under the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy at a cost of 364 million dollars to the U.S. government. Several of those discharged have been trained in crucial skills such as Arabic language.
Prior to the stop at West Point, Equality Riders were contacted by closeted cadets at the school. Although the cadets were unable to make an appearance at the action for fear of being expelled, one informed Riders that several cadets had pooled a donation and contributed to the Equality Ride.
A West Point professor, Richard Schoonhoven, watched the events unfold from the front gate. "I think it’s a shame that the Academy isn’t willing to enter into a constructive dialogue with Soulforce on this issue," Schoonhoven said. "’Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ is a problematic policy that needs to be addressed."
The Equality Ride has been hosted during its stay in New York City by Soulforce New York City. On Tuesday night, Soulforce NYC hosted a reception and fundraiser for the Equality Ride at the Hasted-Hunt Gallery in Manhattan. More than 150 people attended the event, including Soulforce founder Mel White, Neil Giuliano, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and Ted Allen of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The morning of the action at West Point, Soulforce NYC hosted a breakfast for the Riders at Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan.
The West Point visit is the final stop on the Equality Ride. Riders will have a chance to enjoy New York City on Thursday and then will return to Washington for a weekend of discussion and planning for the future.
For more information on the Equality Ride stop at West Point, see: www.equalityride.com/westpoint
The Soulforce Equality Ride is a journey to change the heart and mind of America on the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality. Following in the footsteps of the Freedom Rides of the 1960’s, the Equality Ride uses principles of non-violence to confront military and religious colleges and universities with policies banning enrollment of LGBT students. The Equality Riders reflect on the lessons of history, which have shown past religion-based discrimination against women, people of color, and religious minorities to be an unacceptable abuse of the sanctity of religion. At each of the 19 schools on the 51-day bus tour, the young adult ambassadors of the Equality Ride bring this simple message to students, faculty and administrators: Learn from history; end religion-based discrimination.